Do You Use God’s Name in Your Worship?
THAT God has a personal name all persons well acquainted with the Holy Scriptures realize. True, he also is designated in the Scriptures by such descriptive titles as “God,” “Lord,” “Father,” “the Almighty,” “the Most High” and others. But his personality and attributes are fully summed up and expressed only in his personal name, one that is unique with him. God says: “I am Jehovah. That is my name; and to no one else shall I give my own glory.”—Isa. 42:8; Ps. 83:18.
“Jehovah” is the best-known English pronunciation of God’s name, although “Yahweh” is that favored by most Hebrew scholars. The oldest Hebrew manuscripts present the name in the form of four consonants, commonly called the Tetragrammaton (from Greek tetra, meaning “four,” and gramma, “a letter”). These four Hebrew letters are the equivalent of our four English letters YHWH (some say YHVH or JHVH).
But if Jehovah is the name of God, someone may ask, why is that name so rarely used in the churches either by preachers or parishioners? Do you, for example, use God’s name in your worship? Is it important that you do so?
SUPERSTITION HIDES THE NAME
A principal reason why so many are unfamiliar with God’s name is because of a superstitious idea that arose among Jewish people many centuries ago. This superstition held that it was wrong to pronounce God’s personal name. Just what caused the Jews to adopt this idea is not certain. Some claim the teaching arose that the name was too sacred for imperfect lips to speak. Another view is that the intent was to keep non-Jewish peoples from knowing the name and possibly misusing it. And still another claim is that the purpose was to protect the name from use in magical rites.
When did this superstition toward pronouncing God’s name take hold? There is uncertainty about this. Many reference works have suggested that the name ceased to be used by about 300 B.C.E. They base this conclusion on the supposed absence of God’s name in the Greek Septuagint, the first translation of the Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek, begun in about 280 B.C.E. Was this the case?
True, the most complete manuscript copies of the Septuagint now known do consistently follow the practice of substituting the Greek words Kyʹri·os (Lord) or ho The·osʹ (God) for the name Jehovah (Yahweh). But these major manuscripts date back only as far as the fourth and fifth centuries C.E. Recently, however, much older copies, though in fragmentary form, have been discovered that prove that the earliest copies of the Septuagint did contain the divine name.
For example, there is the fragment of a papyrus roll, listed as Inventory Number 266 of the Fouad Papyri. It contains the second half of the book of Deuteronomy, and in it the Tetragrammaton is regularly presented, written in Hebrew characters. This papyrus is dated by scholars as of the second or first century B.C.E., four or five centuries earlier than the Septuagint manuscripts mentioned previously that do not contain the divine name.
Commenting on another ancient papyrus find, Dr. Paul E. Kahle says: “The papyrus containing fragments of Leviticus ii-v is written in a hand closely akin to that of Papyrus Fouad 266, characterized as already mentioned by the fact that the name of God is rendered by the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew square letters (יהוה) not by κύριος [Kyʹri·os] as later in Christian MSS of the Bible.”—The Cairo Geniza, 1959 ed., pp. 222, 224.
So, there is sound evidence against the idea that the divine name, at least in written form, ceased to be used in the period before our Common Era.
WHEN THE SUPERSTITION TOOK HOLD
In the first century C.E., there first appears some evidence of the development of a superstitious attitude toward God’s name. For example, Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian from a priestly family, after discussing God’s declaring of his name to Moses, said: “It is not lawful for me to say any more.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book II, Chap. XII, par. 4) Josephus’ statement, however, is vague. It does not clearly reveal just what the general attitude current in the first century was as to pronouncing or using the divine name.
The Jewish Mishnah, a collection of rabbinical teachings and traditions, is somewhat more explicit. Its compilation is credited to Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, who lived in the second and third centuries C.E. Some of the Mishnaic material clearly relates to circumstances prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 C.E. It must be acknowledged, however, that the historical value of the Mishnaic traditions is questionable. Nevertheless, certain Mishnaic traditions give insight into what were apparently Jewish attitudes toward the pronouncing of the divine name.
In connection with the annual Day of Atonement, Yoma, 6, 2, states: “And when the priests and the people which stood in the Temple Court heard the Expressed Name come forth from the mouth of the High Priest, they used to kneel and bow themselves and fall down on their faces and say, ‘Blessed be the name of the glory of his kingdom for ever and ever!’”
Of the daily priestly blessings, Sotah, 7, 6, says: “In the Temple they pronounced the Name as it was written, but in the provinces by a substitute word.”
Sanhedrin, 10, 1, in listing those “that have no share in the world to come,” states: “Abba Saul says: Also he that pronounces the Name with its proper letters.”
Yet, despite these last two negative views, one also finds in the first section of the Mishnah the positive injunction that “a man should salute his fellow with [the use of] the Name [of God],” the example of Boaz (Ruth 2:4) then being cited.—Berakoth, 9, 5.
Taken for what they are worth, these traditional views may reveal a superstitious tendency to avoid using the divine name sometime before Jerusalem’s temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. There is no evidence that such superstition prevailed before the Common Era. The available evidence shows that this superstition began to develop at the earliest by the first or second centuries C.E. Thus, in Jesus’ day it may well have been the general practice for many Jews to use the divine name.
The time did come, however, when, in reading the Hebrew Scriptures in the original language, the Jewish reader substituted either ’Adho·nayʹ (Lord) or ’Elo·himʹ (God) rather than pronounce the divine name represented by the Tetragrammaton. This is seen from the fact that when vowel pointing came into use in the sixth or seventh centuries C.E. the Jewish copyists inserted the vowel points for either ’Adho·nayʹ or ’Elo·himʹ when writing the Tetragrammaton, evidently to warn the reader to say those words in place of pronouncing the divine name. If using the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in later copies, the reader, of course, found the Tetragrammaton completely replaced by the Greek titles Kyʹri·os and ho The·osʹ.
Translations into other languages, such as the Latin Vulgate, followed the example of these later copies of the Septuagint. The Catholic Douay translation of 1609 in English, based on the Vulgate, therefore does not contain the divine name. And the King James Version of 1611 customarily uses LORD or GOD in all capitals to represent the Tetragrammaton in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, in four places it does use the name “Jehovah,” namely, at Exodus 6:3, Isaiah 12:2 and Isa 26:4, and Psalm 83:18.
The translators of the American Standard Version (of 1901) forcefully expose the wrong basis for obscuring God’s sacred name Jehovah, saying, in the foreword of that translation, “the American Revisers, after a careful consideration, were brought to the unanimous conviction that a Jewish superstition, which regarded the Divine Name as too sacred to be uttered, ought no longer to dominate in the English or any other version of the Old Testament, as it fortunately does not in the numerous versions made by modern missionaries. This Memorial Name, explained in Ex. iii. 14, 15, and emphasized as such over and over in the original text of the Old Testament, designates God as the personal God, as the covenant God, the God of revelation, the Deliverer, the Friend of his people;—not merely the abstractly ‘Eternal One’ of many French translations, but the ever living Helper of those who are in trouble. This personal name [Jehovah], with its wealth of sacred associations, is now restored to the place in the sacred text to which it has an unquestionable claim.”
Yes, when we read God’s own declared purpose to have his name “declared in all the earth” and that his name “will be great among the nations,” how can we hold back from using that name in our worship because of some superstition? (Ex. 9:16; Mal. 1:11) The book of Malachi (3:16) describes a “book of remembrance” that began to be written up before God “for those in fear of Jehovah and for those thinking upon his name.” Are you included in that “book of remembrance”? Do you not only ‘think upon that name’ but also express it in worship? Only thereby can any person be counted among the ‘people for God’s name’ that the Christian disciple James spoke about at Acts 15:14-18. It means life everlasting for you to know God by his name, to treat that name with respect and to live in harmony with the things that he has had recorded in his Word over that Most Holy Name.